Friday, February 27, 2009

Season in Review: Second Down (2008)

We wondered how Pittsburgh's poor first down performance in 2008 would impact subsequent downs.

And now we know.

Let's begin with a breakdown of rushing plays to passing plays:

Rushing Plays196182155151230
Passing Plays144173209186112
Total Off. Plays, 1st Down340355364337342

Rushing Plays178160174152
Passing Plays150177165185
Total Off. Plays, 1st Down328337339337

The median number of second down plays for the period 2000-2008 is 339, making 2008 about as average as average can be, at least in that respect. That fact makes the number of rushing plays called all the more alarming. Specifically, 152 rushing plays on second down is the second lowest total in the past nine seasons (only 2003, a season in which the Steelers went 6-10, was worse). Not surprisingly the number of pass plays called on second down in 2008 was the third highest of the past nine seasons, and the highest since 2003.

As mentioned earlier, the Pittsburgh offense performed poorly on first down but the question now is "how poorly?" To answer that we look at a breakdown of the second down plays by the distance required (i.e. for a first down or touchdown):

What the graph shows us is that the number of second down plays on which Pittsburgh required five yards or fewer was tied for the lowest number in the past nine seasons (88, tied with 2007). The number of plays requiring 6-10 yards was at its fourth highest during the past nine seasons.

Of even greater concern the number of second down plays on which more than ten yards was required reached a four year high and was at its fourth highest point of the past nine seasons. This fact can only mean that the number of first down plays in 2008 which resulted in lost yardage was amongst the highest of any season in the past nine.

Finally we look at how the Pittsburgh offense operated on second down, offering up a look at the average gain on second down and the difference between the average passing play and the average rushing play:

The notion that the Pittsburgh Steelers are a "run first" team is simply a fiction.

While second down passes averaged more than six yards (6.36) for only the second time in the past nine seasons, rushing plays had their second worst average (3.76 yards) over the same period (in 2003 the Steelers averaged 2.95 yards per second down rushing attempt).

First down performance was poor, forcing the Steelers to throw the football more often. However on those occasions when a rushing play was called the offense performed as poorly as at any time in recent memory.

We are afraid to examine third down ~ let's take the weekend to prepare ourselves.